Author: Ronald E. Yates
Published: November 26th, 2013
Word Count: 127,000
Genre: Historical Fiction, Adventure
Recommended Age: 17+
Synopsis: Western Kansas 1860. Billy Battles is born on a remote homestead just off the storied Santa Fe Trail. More than one hundred years later a great-grandson inherits two trunks filled with Billy's personal effects.
In those trunks are several secret journals that reveal an astonishing life of adventure and violence that until now was obscured by the haze of time and Billy's desire for secrecy. The journals tell of a man both haunted and hunted who, in a desperate search for peace and redemption, journeys far from the untamed American West to the Far East, South America, and Europe. In amazing detail they describe Billy's interaction with a wide assortment of men and women--some legendary, a few iniquitous, and many lost to history. They also recount his participation in such cataclysmic events as the Spanish-American War, turmoil in French Indochina, and violent revolutions in Mexico and South America.
Complying with Billy's last request the great-grandson assembles the journals into a compelling trilogy that reveals a man often trapped and overwhelmed by circumstances beyond his control, but who nevertheless manages to persevere for ten decades.
The main character, Billy Battles was well-developed, and since it was written from his perspective, we got insight into his thought patterns and his motivations through the whole story. I also liked the concept that the book itself opens with Billy Battle's great-grandson actually meeting him, and then later on receiving the journals that Billy had written. For me, what really brought the story alive was the use of the vernacular at the time, and I loved the turns of phrases they used in the past. It added another layer of authenticity to the story.
Billy Battles wasn't the only character I liked. As mentioned, I loved how the author utilized historical figures to flesh out the narrative – Wyatt Earp and his brothers, Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson to name a few. As I read this book, I found myself looking up the places mentioned, as it ranged from Dodge City, Kansas to Tombstone, Arizona. As far as other characters, one of my favorites was Signore DiFranco. He was in exile from his home country, but I found him to be as fascinating a character as Billy.
This particular book – Finding Billy Battles- is just part one, and I really want to read the next book to find out how this story continues. A highly recommended rating of 5/5 platypires for those who love historical fiction, and the Old West in particular.
Kansas City, 1948
My full name is William Fitzroy Raglan Battles, but most folks call me Billy Battles. My good friends call me Billy “Rags” Battles. More on that later.
Let me begin by owning up to some pretty terrible things I did during my life. That way, you can make up your mind right now if you want to read further.
I have killed people. And I am sad to say the first person I killed was a woman. It was entirely unintentional, and to this day, the incident haunts me. The next person I killed was that woman’s grown son, and that was intentional. If you decide to read on, you will learn more about these two people and how they came to die at my hands.
You will also learn about other things I did—some of which I am not proud of, some of which I am. In the course of my life, I got into a lot of brawls where I had to defend myself and others in a variety of ways. I did so without regret, because in each case, someone was trying to do me or someone else harm.
Now I know the Christian Bible says it is a sin to kill, and in some of these imbroglios, I probably could have walked away and avoided the ensuing violence. I chose not to because I learned early in my life that walking away from a scrap is too often seen as a sign of weakness or cowardice and simply incites bullies and thugs to molest you later on. There were a few individuals who tried their damndest to put an end to me, but fortunately, I was able to dispatch or incapacitate those malefactors before they could apply the coup de grâce.
So there you have it—a forewarning about me and my sometimes-turbulent life. As the Romans used to say, “Caveat emptor,” if you decide to continue reading.
I don’t know if anybody will ever read what I am putting to paper here, but I figure I should do it anyway. A few folks have told me my experiences are fascinating because they show what it was like in Kansas and a lot of other places in the last century, when life could turn violent and capricious without warning.
As I am writing this, I am eighty-eight years old, and the year is 1948. I am not sure how much longer I will be on this earth, so I figure I had better write pretty fast before I join the Great Majority. I have been fortunate in that my memory still serves me quite well, but I must admit that for much of my life, I kept several journals, and it’s those journals that have kept my mind on the trail when it was inclined to wander off into the brush.
It’s also those journals that helped me make sense, now that I am an old man, of some of the things I saw and did during my life. It’s a funny thing, but as you grow older and you have time to look back on your life, things begin to make more sense to you. I guess that’s what they call wisdom—not that I’m necessarily a wise man. I’m just somebody who had the good fortune to see and do a lot of things—some pretty awful, some pretty wonderful—and the good Lord has blessed me, or cursed me, with the capacity to remember most of them.
There are some things I wish I could forget—things other people did and things that I did. But I cannot. Consequently, I have lived for decades with many ghosts—not the kind that appear as apparitions in the night, but the kind that grab hold of your mind and force you to remember even when you don’t want to.
I know what it is like to be a hunter of men, and I know what it is like to be hunted. I can tell you, I much prefer the former over the latter. I have known and caused terrible fear. I have experienced and inflicted dreadful pain. I have loved and been loved, and I have been, without doubt, hated by some.
But I have always tried to live my life as my mother taught me—with uprightness, reliability, and consequence. I wasn’t always successful. Sometimes my disposition turned dark, and I did things I truly regret today. I am, after all, one of God’s wretched creatures—a simple mortal with all the imperfections and deficiencies of that species.
About the Author
Ronald E. Yates is a former award-winning foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and Dean Emeritus of the College of Media at the University of Illinois where he was also a Professor of Journalism.
He is the author of Finding Billy Battles, the first in a trilogy of novels published Nov. 2013 and The Kikkoman Chronicles: A Global Company with A Japanese Soul, published by McGraw-Hill. His books also include Aboard The Tokyo Express: A Foreign Correspondent's Journey Through Japan, a collection of columns translated into Japanese, as well as three journalism textbooks: The Journalist's Handbook, International Reporting and Foreign Correspondents, and Business and Financial Reporting in a Global Economy.
Yates lived and worked as a foreign correspondent in Japan, Southeast Asia and Latin America where he covered several major stories including the fall of South Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975, the 1989 Tiananmen Square tragedy in Beijing, and revolutions in Nicaragua, El Salvador an Guatemala. He is a graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas.
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